The changing world of the barristers’ clerk

It’s not an exaggeration to say the legal profession has changed exponentially over the last 10, even five years. Roles have evolved and arguably, nowhere is this more evident than in barristers’ chambers where the role of a clerk now looks very different.

There are a number of interesting factors behind why this role has changed so significantly.

Firstly, many sets are now organised in a different way – around 20 years ago the Commercial Bar started to adapt their structures to better reflect the clients they were serving and to help ensure they were approaching business in a more strategic way. One of the first changes was creating new roles including chambers director and CEO.

Today, sets are willing to look far and wide to find the right people for these roles. For example, it’s common to team senior clerks with mangers from a professional services background and usually, the CEO of a set today is a generalist – they have a whole array of management skills, sometimes in unrelated sectors, but importantly they have the people and networking skills, as well as the commercial nous, to help a set in this competitive market.

Of course, the Bar hasn’t completely moved away from a traditional, hierarchal leadership model and many sets still operate with a head of chambers or senior clerk in charge.

Attracting and securing work has also influenced how sets are structured and the role of the modern clerk. For instance, we have seen more work undertaken by solicitor advocates and in-house lawyers and likewise, some barristers have seen work come through lay clients directly.

The Bar isn’t immune to the impacts of the digital era and in particular the role social media now plays. Marketing is seen as vital to most chambers, alongside broader business development activity. Individuals at all levels are expected to attract and retain business and for clerks in particular, many are now in a hybrid role which blends the traditional job of a clerk with that of sophisticated marketer and business development professional. Indeed, we’ve seen many clerks and practice managers gaining relevant degrees and MBAs to help ensure they are properly qualified to tackle this new role.

As we see millennials enter the profession, it is natural that the Bar becomes more tech-savvy as a generation familiar with sharing online become qualified. Although for some of the more traditional sets it is still early days for social media, we have seen some great examples of chambers and individual barristers using these platforms to attract work and more generally raise their profile. And this of course means clerks also have to be more alive to the fast-moving world of digital marketing and social media – they can help ensure the online output is focussed, appropriate and helps the set meet its overarching strategic aims.

So, what makes a clerk in this modern age? A successful set seeks variety with this role, making sure their clerks are not only solid in traditional fundamentals (perhaps ditching some of the more antiquated) but also embracing and (often leading) on the modern – asking clerks to be armed with a new range of skills, including marketing and business development.

Nick Rees is Managing Director at GRL Legal, which provides recruitment and development services to the Bar.